Dressed as a black basketball star for Purim, State Assemblyman Dov Hikind was the brunt of criticism for his lack of sensitivity in his choice of costume on this festive Jewish holiday.
Purim is the day on the Jewish calendar which commemorates the miraculous rescue of the Jews of Persia from destruction during the 5th century BCE. The day has been celebrated for hundreds of years by sending gifts of food to friends, having a festive meal, giving charity to the poor, and strangely enough, by dressing up in costumes, masks, and other disguises.
Dov Hikind explained that he is sorry if his choice of costume was offensive to some people, but he certainly meant no harm by it. He said that every year he hires a make-up artist to help him with his costume idea, and that he thought there was nothing offensive about being a black basketball player.
Hikind and his wife, who was also dressed-up, but as a devil, hosted a Purim party at his home over the weekend. A photo of the Democratic lawmaker with his wife was posted on Facebook by their son Yoni with the caption, “How cool are my folks…Lol.”
Hikind said, “I was trying to emulate, you know, maybe some of these basketball players.
“Someone gave me a uniform, someone gave me the hair of the actual, you know, sort of a black basketball player” Hikind said. “It was just a lot of fun. Everybody just had a very, very good time and every year I do something else. … The fun for me is when people come in and don’t recognize me.”
Some people did not see the fun in the behavior, and took offense, including Assemblyman Karim Camara, chairman of the black, Latino and Asian caucus. He said in a statement that the displeasure on Monday over Hikind’s costume choice was “widespread.” He pointed out the “deeply painful” history that blackface recalls, especially in reference to the minstrel show.
“The stereotypes embodied in blackface minstrels have played a significant role in cementing and proliferating racist images, attitudes and perceptions, which are still painful and offensive today,” he said. “I find the actions of the assemblyman to be callous and repugnant. At the very least, an apology should be issued to those who found his portrayal objectionable.”
In response to his critics Hikind tweeted on Monday: “It’s Purim! People dress up!”
He followed up with a blog post, saying that he was surprised that his costume garnered so much attention.
“I am intrigued that anyone who understands Purim — or for that matter understands me — would have a problem with this. This is political correctness to the absurd. There is not a prejudiced bone in my body,” Hikind posted. He later admitted that he was sorry, and apologized to “those who were offended.”
The apology was interpreted as insincere by Carmara, Councilman Jumaane D. Williams and a few other members of the City Council. Later on Monday the group released a statement noting that,
“Not only have you appeared publicly in blackface, you have offered an initially fierce defense of your actions.”
“The relationship between the Jewish and African-American communities of Brooklyn has strengthened in recent years, but not too long ago it was deeply fractured,” the letter continued. “Leaders from these communities have worked hard to calm tensions and build bridges of tolerance and cooperation. However, to many concerned New Yorkers, your act and subsequent comments fly in the face of those efforts.”